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Over four years in a Peruvian jail
While Lori may or may not have been interviewing members of the MRTA for her articlesthe facts are unclearshe has never been a member of that group and no actual evidence that she is or was a member has ever been presented. She has consistently and repeatedly denounced violence of any sort, and she has maintained her innocence.
Indeed, all the alleged ties the Peruvian government has labored to establish between Lori and the MRTA fall apart on even the most cursory of examinations. A sampling of the most frequently cited connections between Lori and the MRTA, and the truth about them, follows:
- Lori was the tenant of an MRTA safe-house. Lori lived in an apartment far from this house. She was never a tenant of the safe house used by the MRTA. Her name appears nowhere on the houses lease. (Loris lawyer has seen the lease and verified this fact.)
- Lori was arrested in a MRTA firefight with Peruvian police. Lori was arrested on November 30, 1995 while riding a bus in downtown Lima. There was a firefight between MRTA rebels and Peruvian police the next day, but by that time, Lori had already been in police custody for some time.
- Lori was keeping a weapons fund for the MRTA. The Peruvian authorities found out that Lori had a bank account with roughly $50,000 in it and leapt to the conclusion, based on absolutely no other evidence, that it was a weapons fund. (A conclusion possible only if one had already decided that Lori was a terrorist.) If the Peruvian authorities had expended even a minimal effort, they would have discovered that this was Loris college money, in a trust fund shared with her mother, Rhoda; and that it came from royalties on a statistics textbook Loris father, Mark, had written. (Peru has since quietly backed away from this [even by Peruvian standards] insupportable accusation.)
- Interpol and Ecuadors police confirm that Lori met with MRTA agents. Both Interpol and Ecuador have said that this story was fed to the press by the Peruvian authorities. Gonzalo Salvador, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Ecuadorian Embassy, said, If our authorities had known about such a meeting, they wouldve apprehended them. I believe this story was invented in Peru.
In short, every connection the Peruvian government attempted to make between Lori and the MRTA turned out to be false and could easily have been refuted if Lori had been given a chance to defend herself.
A civilian trial would have afforded such an opportunity. But for reasons one can only be speculate about, the Peruvian governmentespecially Perus autocratic leader, Alberto Fujimoriwanted to ensure that Lori would be convicted. Fujimori may have wanted to show the Peruvian people that he is willing to stand up to the United Statesto prove that he has no fear of the American government. Taking a tough stance against the American terrorist may have been the gambit he decided on (a pretty safe one, as it turns out, since the American government has done so little to help, and seems so little concerned that one of its citizens is being illegally held in conditions that human rights organizations have called harsh, inhumane, and degrading).
It should be notedeven Loris own family openly admits this factthat most Peruvians think Lori is guilty; this is only to be expected since the Peruvian press and the media in general is tightly controlled by the government and intimidated into toeing the government line. The overwhelming evidence of Loris innocence has never been seen or even hinted at in the Peruvian press. Under these circumstances, Fujimoris tough stance against Lori the American terrorist is quite popular with the Peruvian people. It would be surprising, given the situation in Peru, to find a Peruvian who did not think Lori guilty and deserving of her harsh fate.
There are a few, though, including the former Prime Minister of Peru, Javier Valle Riestra, who think Lori is innocent. In June 1998, Javier Valle Riestra went so far as to opine publicly that Lori should be pardoned and deported from Peru because of the gross lack of fairness and contempt for due process of her trial. Fujimori refuses to entertain any such possibility. Valle Riestra has since resigned his post at least in part in protest over Fujimoris dictatorial style and unwillingness to give up the presidency despite having already served the constitutionally-allowed maximum of two terms.
Since 1996, Rhoda and Mark Berenson have been fighting an uphill battle to get their daughter freed. The obstacles that remain in their way are many, not the least of which has been the first impression that both Americans and Peruvians had of Lori. This impression was the result of a carefully orchestrated media event, manipulated by the Peruvian government. Fujimori wanted to make sure that the impression of Lori would be that of a maniacal, unrepentant terrorist.
For two weeks after her arrest, Lori was held incommunicado in a small, dark, rat-infested cell. Lori herself was never physically abused during that time but the same cannot be said for Loris cellmate of 11 days. Lori shared this cell that was barely large enough for one person with a Peruvian woman who had been shot numerous times and was still bleeding from her wounds. She had a colostomy bag that was overflowing with waste, as well as a catheter that Lori, who has no medical training, had to try to re-insert every time it fell out. The woman had obviously been tortured. The woman was never given or even offered any medical treatment during the 11 days that Lori was with her. Lori alone took care of this woman.
At the end of this ordeal, Berenson, who had not been allowed to shower or change clothes during the whole two weeks, was told she was to be presented to the press. She was told there would be no microphones (a lie), and that she would have to shout if she expected to be heard. That is what she didand that is precisely why she looked and sounded, for all the world, like a wild-eyed, screaming, maniacal criminal.
Outraged at the treatment of the wounded woman, Lori gave a statement that was defiant (understandably, considering the circumstances), but did not begin to approximate the admission of guilt the Peruvian government claimed it to be. Her statement in full (translated from Spanish):
- I am to be condemned for my concern about the conditions of hunger and misery which exists in this country. Here nobody can deny that in Peru there is much injustice. There is an institutionalized violence that has killed the peoples finest sons and has condemned children to die of hunger. If it is a crime to worry about the subhuman conditions in which the majority of this population lives, then I will accept my punishment. But this is not a love of violence. This is not to be a criminal terrorist because in the MRTA there are no criminal terrorists. It is a revolutionary movement. I love this nation. I love this nation and although this love is going to makecostme years in prison, I will never stop loving, and never will lose the hope and confidence that there will be a new day of justice.
Fujimori has seen to it that Berensons statement has never been seen in its proper and relevant context. (It was this evidence of Loris supposed lack of remorse for crimes she did not commit and her refusal to plead for mercy that convinced the tribunal justice to convict her and impose upon her the maximum sentence of life without parole.)
Moreover, this was the original image of Lori that was presented in the American press, as well. It is the image of Berenson that her parents have been laboring to overcome. For the mainstream American press was willing to accept the Peruvian governments framing of the case and its framing (in both senses of the word) of Lori. Mark and Rhoda have been fighting back, as best they can: an article here, a mention on a news program there. But Fujimori has had the advantage of an almost insurmountable head start and a more coordinated and synchronized media push. When the Berensons try to interest the American media in the true story of their daughter, they are met with reluctance unless Lori can be interviewed. Fujimori refuses to allow this to happen. That is why Rhoda and Mark Berenson are trying to bring their appeal for help directly to all of the people who are concerned with justice and human rights.
Years of imprisonment in a maximum security prison situated at more than 12,000 feet above sea-level, have left Lori with arthritis, vision problems, and circulatory problems that, despite Loris having recently been moved to a prison situated at a less healthendangering height of 7,000 feet above sea-level, refuse to go away. Loris hands are twisted and swollen to twice their normal size as a result of her circulatory problems. She sleeps in a cell with no running water and an open hole in the floor for a toilet. At night, the temperatures routinely drop below freezing; with no heat in her cell.
The United States Code 22 Section 1732 states quite clearly that the President is obliged to do all within his power short of a declaration of war to secure the release of an American citizen being unjustly detained by a foreign power. Amnesty International, the UN, the Organization of American States are just a few of the many international organizations who agree that Lori was deprived of due process, and ought, at the very least, to be granted a fair trial, if not released outright for humanitarian reasons. But so fardespite the pleas of Loris parents and family, her many supporters, and nearly half the members of the House of Representatives and well over half the members of the SenatePresident Clinton has done virtually nothing to secure Loris release.
The Berenson family and all of Loris supporters hope that people of conscience will help them get President Clinton to pressure Fujimori to release Lori. The time to act is now, before the changes in government in both DC and Lima occur. Four years of unjust imprisonment is four years too long. Z
Please write your representatives and ask them to free Lori. Contact: www. freelori.org.